Friday 15 June 2012

UN highlights justice and legitimacy as key to unlocking peace and development

The United Nations Development Programme, UNDP, published its Annual Report for 2011 on the Global Programme on the Rule of Law, a key workstrand for the agency, this month. It argues that the way local people see their own Government and the actions of donors is the single most important factor in deciding how successful efforts at reducing poverty and building peace will be.

Building on what some thought was a “game changer” of a World Development Report from the World Bank, the UNDP concludes that development is impossible without tackling criminality, insecurity and impunity through establishing stability through the rule of law.

Surely the key to establishing that stability, and the rule of law which underpins it, are the local institutions that are established or supported in fragile countries. Put simply, if those institutions are not seen as being legitimate by the communities they are there to serve, they risk perpetuating a sense of injustice or other grievances that have given rise to and driven the conflict. The report observes that a
“..sense of perceived injustice – rather than poverty per se – drives conflict.”
What is needed, the UNDP report’s authors argue, is a new social contract between state and citizen and that development needs to be seen in those terms.

There is much to be welcomed in this report, as a contribution to changing the terms of the debate about the most effective ways in which to pursue development in conflict affected and fragile areas. It comes not only in the wake of similar conclusions from the World Bank but also the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding process, between donor countries and fragile states.

Speaking recently the Finance Minister of Timor-Leste, herself a co-Chair of that Dialogue, said of the way in which aid can sometimes undermine legitimacy in fragile states:
"The fact is, we in fragile states rarely know how donor aid is spent. Donors often bypass the state agenda to pursue their own agendas, delivering services directly to our people, at times, without our knowledge and often without our consent."

"This not only causes fragmentation and proliferation in development but also weakens any legitimacy we as representatives of and for the people have in building viable institutions or leading a national vision and inclusive agenda for peace. This way of business must change."
I found her article really inspiring, if only for the way that Guilherme the gardener was frequently the main source of the Minister's wisdom!

The UNDP report describes how the agency will be collaborating on the development of a new conflict analysis tool arising out of that Dialogue, which will:
“..serve as a national prioritisation and implementation framework. UNDP is actively supporting the development of this tool which should contribute to donors and development agencies providing coherent support through programming and financing based on agreed principles.”
The report captures the challenge of forging an effective intervention from outside which contributes to law and order locally, enabling conflicts to be managed without violence, and creating the stable environment necessary for development without undermining the legitimacy of the institutions that need either to be created or reformed into order to deliver that environment. The difficulty is for solutions designed and delivered from the outside to adequately match the political context which they are there to serve, meaning:
“..consequently, the international community has grappled with how to provide support that can manage complex political dynamics and … support the establishment of rule of law institutions that support peace and security.”
Part of the answer, it says, is to involve communities, civil society and informal structures as well as the official Governments, in the design and delivery of their support. Without this involvement, backed up by a full and local understanding of the historic and political context in which the country has evolved, the intervention is unlikely to succeed. But with it, the right institutions can achieve genuine legitimacy and therefore begin to build resilience against further outbreaks of violence, for example in response to external shocks generated by climate change or economic factors.
“Representative and inclusive institutions contribute to resilience and legitimacy.”
The critical contribution of these institutions is to provide the procedural means by which conflict can be managed.
“When people cannot manage their disputes peaceably through a legitimate process, it increases the likelihood of future conflict and violence.”
Calling for longer term engagements with post conflict environments the UNDP underlines the importance of understanding the local political economy in the design of interventions when it describes the role of transitional justice systems as being both key to the development of stability but which are also
“..inherently political processes and are central to re-establishing the relationship between state and society, and the overall peacebuilding process.”
Without designing systems from the bottom-up, based on local circumstances, the report warns of legal frameworks emerging which do not command the confidence of local people:
“The rules of the game matter. Institutionalised discrimination – unfair and discriminatory treatment of individuals and groups of people – embedded in law, policy and administrative practice – drives conflict.”
UNDP is to be commended for this report. It is well researched, comprehensively set out and evidence based. The conclusions make difficult reading for anyone advocating a ‘business as usual’ approach to development where the debate centres on how much donor governments spend rather than how it is spent.

With the question of how overseas development assistance is designed after 2015 beginning to take shape, most recently with the establishment of a High Level Panel of world leaders, this is a welcome addition to a debate that has, until recently, avoided the complexity of conflict in favour of a technocratic view of development that could be measured in kilometres of road or numbers of schools and hospitals alone. The reality of that approach for the 1.5 billion people living in the shadow of conflict is best summed up in the UNDP report by Joost Andriesson of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs:
“It has become evident that the Millennium Development Goals are unlikely to be met in conflict –affected and fragile situations. Sustainable security, development and economic growth can only be achieved, if and when countries have the capacity to secure people’s physical safety and to uphold the rule of law. In fragile situations this entails prevention of violence and consolidation of peace and stability.”
And that:
“A new approach is required, as presented in the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States and the World Bank’s World Development Report for 2011.”
 So maybe a bit less of "aid works" and a bit more of dealing with the real world as it is, and not how we would like it to be, might be in order as we look ahead to post 2015.

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